Part 7 out of 10
acceptance of accomplished facts may save yet the precious
vestiges of parliamentary institutions. Don Juste's eyes glowed
dully; he believed in parliamentary institutions--and the
convinced drone of his voice lost itself in the stillness of the
house like the deep buzzing of some ponderous insect.
Charles Gould had turned round to listen patiently, leaning his
elbow on the balustrade. He shook his head a little, refusing,
almost touched by the anxious gaze of the President of the
Provincial Assembly. It was not Charles Gould's policy to make
the San Tome mine a party to any formal proceedings.
"My advice, senores, is that you should wait for your fate in
your houses. There is no necessity for you to give yourselves up
formally into Montero's hands. Submission to the inevitable, as
Don Juste calls it, is all very well, but when the inevitable is
called Pedrito Montero there is no need to exhibit pointedly the
whole extent of your surrender. The fault of this country is the
want of measure in political life. Flat acquiescence in
illegality, followed by sanguinary reaction--that, senores, is
not the way to a stable and prosperous future."
Charles Gould stopped before the sad bewilderment of the faces,
the wondering, anxious glances of the eyes. The feeling of pity
for those men, putting all their trust into words of some sort,
while murder and rapine stalked over the land, had betrayed him
into what seemed empty loquacity. Don Juste murmured--
"You are abandoning us, Don Carlos. . . . And yet, parliamentary
He could not finish from grief. For a moment he put his hand over
his eyes. Charles Gould, in his fear of empty loquacity, made no
answer to the charge. He returned in silence their ceremonious
bows. His taciturnity was his refuge. He understood that what
they sought was to get the influence of the San Tome mine on
their side. They wanted to go on a conciliating errand to the
victor under the wing of the Gould Concession. Other public
bodies--the Cabildo, the Consulado--would be coming, too,
presently, seeking the support of the most stable, the most
effective force they had ever known to exist in their province.
The doctor, arriving with his sharp, jerky walk, found that the
master had retired into his own room with. orders not to be
disturbed on any account. But Dr. Monygham was not anxious to
see Charles Gould at once. He spent some time in a rapid
examination of his wounded. He gazed down upon each in turn,
rubbing his chin between his thumb and forefinger; his steady
stare met without expression their silently inquisitive look. All
these cases were doing well; but when he came to the dead
Cargador he stopped a little longer, surveying not the man who
had ceased to suffer, but the woman kneeling in silent
contemplation of the rigid face, with its pinched nostrils and a
white gleam in the imperfectly closed eyes. She lifted her head
slowly, and said in a dull voice--
"It is not long since he had become a Cargador--only a few weeks.
His worship the Capataz had accepted him after many entreaties."
"I am not responsible for the great Capataz," muttered the
doctor, moving off.
Directing his course upstairs towards the door of Charles Gould's
room, the doctor at the last moment hesitated; then, turning away
from the handle with a shrug of his uneven shoulders, slunk off
hastily along the corredor in search of Mrs. Gould's camerista.
Leonardo told him that the senora had not risen yet. The senora
had given into her charge the girls belonging to that Italian
posadero. She, Leonarda, had put them to bed in her own room. The
fair girl had cried herself to sleep, but the dark one--the
bigger--had not closed her eyes yet. She sat up in bed clutching
the sheets right up under her chin and staring before her like a
little witch. Leonarda did not approve of the Viola children
being admitted to the house. She made this feeling clear by the
indifferent tone in which she inquired whether their mother was
dead yet. As to the senora, she must be asleep. Ever since she
had gone into her room after seeing the departure of Dona Antonia
with her dying father, there had been no sound behind her door.
The doctor, rousing himself out of profound reflection, told her
abruptly to call her mistress at once. He hobbled off to wait for
Mrs. Gould in the sala. He was very tired, but too excited to sit
down. In this great drawing-room, now empty, in which his
withered soul had been refreshed after many arid years and his
outcast spirit had accepted silently the toleration of many
side-glances, he wandered haphazard amongst the chairs and tables
till Mrs. Gould, enveloped in a morning wrapper, came in rapidly.
"You know that I never approved of the silver being sent away,"
the doctor began at once, as a preliminary to the narrative of
his night's adventures in association with Captain Mitchell, the
engineer-in-chief, and old Viola, at Sotillo's headquarters. To
the doctor, with his special conception of this political crisis,
the removal of the silver had seemed an irrational and ill-omened
measure. It was as if a general were sending the best part of his
troops away on the eve of battle upon some recondite pretext. The
whole lot of ingots might have been concealed somewhere where
they could have been got at for the purpose of staving off the
dangers which were menacing the security of the Gould Concession.
The Administrador had acted as if the immense and powerful
prosperity of the mine had been founded on methods of probity, on
the sense of usefulness. And it was nothing of the kind. The
method followed had been the only one possible. The Gould
Concession had ransomed its way through all those years. It was a
nauseous process. He quite understood that Charles Gould had got
sick of it and had left the old path to back up that hopeless
attempt at reform. The doctor did not believe in the reform of
Costaguana. And now the mine was back again in its old path, with
the disadvantage that henceforth it had to deal not only with the
greed provoked by its wealth, but with the resentment awakened by
the attempt to free itself from its bondage to moral corruption.
That was the penalty of failure. What made him uneasy was that
Charles Gould seemed to him to have weakened at the decisive
moment when a frank return to the old methods was the only
chance. Listening to Decoud's wild scheme had been a weakness.
The doctor flung up his arms, exclaiming, "Decoud! Decoud!" He
hobbled about the room with slight, angry laughs. Many years ago
both his ankles had been seriously damaged in the course of a
certain investigation conducted in the castle of Sta. Marta by a
commission composed of military men. Their nomination had been
signified to them unexpectedly at the dead of night, with
scowling brow, flashing eyes, and in a tempestuous voice, by
Guzman Bento. The old tyrant, maddened by one of his sudden
accesses of suspicion, mingled spluttering appeals to their
fidelity with imprecations and horrible menaces. The cells and
casements of the castle on the hill had been already filled with
prisoners. The commission was charged now with the task of
discovering the iniquitous conspiracy against the Citizen-Saviour
of his country.
Their dread of the raving tyrant translated itself into a hasty
ferocity of procedure. The Citizen-Saviour was not accustomed to
wait. A conspiracy had to be discovered. The courtyards of the
castle resounded with the clanking of leg-irons, sounds of blows,
yells of pain; and the commission of high officers laboured
feverishly, concealing their distress and apprehensions from each
other, and especially from their secretary, Father Beron, an army
chaplain, at that time very much in the confidence of the
Citizen-Saviour. That priest was a big round-shouldered man, with
an unclean-looking, overgrown tonsure on the top of his flat
head, of a dingy, yellow complexion, softly fat, with greasy
stains all down the front of his lieutenant's uniform, and a
small cross embroidered in white cotton on his left breast. He
had a heavy nose and a pendant lip. Dr. Monygham remembered him
still. He remembered him against all the force of his will
striving its utmost to forget. Father Beron had been adjoined to
the commission by Guzman Bento expressly for the purpose that his
enlightened zeal should assist them in their labours. Dr.
Monygham could by no manner of means forget the zeal of Father
Beron, or his face, or the pitiless, monotonous voice in which he
pronounced the words, "Will you confess now?"
This memory did not make him shudder, but it had made of him what
he was in the eyes of respectable people, a man careless of
common decencies, something between a clever vagabond and a
disreputable doctor. But not all respectable people would have
had the necessary delicacy of sentiment to understand with what
trouble of mind and accuracy of vision Dr. Monygham, medical
officer of the San Tome mine, remembered Father Beron, army
chaplain, and once a secretary of a military commission. After
all these years Dr. Monygham, in his rooms at the end of the
hospital building in the San Tome gorge, remembered Father Beron
as distinctly as ever. He remembered that priest at night,
sometimes, in his sleep. On such nights the doctor waited for
daylight with a candle lighted, and walking the whole length of
his rooms to and fro, staring down at his bare feet, his arms
hugging his sides tightly. He would dream of Father Beron sitting
at the end of a long black table, behind which, in a row,
appeared the heads, shoulders, and epaulettes of the military
members, nibbling the feather of a quill pen, and listening with
weary and impatient scorn to the protestations of some prisoner
calling heaven to witness of his innocence, till he burst out,
"What's the use of wasting time over that miserable nonsense! Let
me take him outside for a while." And Father Beron would go
outside after the clanking prisoner, led away between two
soldiers. Such interludes happened on many days, many times, with
many prisoners. When the prisoner returned he was ready to make a
full confession, Father Beron would declare, leaning forward with
that dull, surfeited look which can be seen in the eyes of
gluttonous persons after a heavy meal.
The priest's inquisitorial instincts suffered but little from the
want of classical apparatus of the Inquisition At no time of the
world's history have men been at a loss how to inflict mental and
bodily anguish upon their fellow-creatures. This aptitude came to
them in the growing complexity of their passions and the early
refinement of their ingenuity. But it may safely be said that
primeval man did not go to the trouble of inventing tortures. He
was indolent and pure of heart. He brained his neighbour
ferociously with a stone axe from necessity and without malice.
The stupidest mind may invent a rankling phrase or brand the
innocent with a cruel aspersion. A piece of string and a ramrod;
a few muskets in combination with a length of hide rope; or even
a simple mallet of heavy, hard wood applied with a swing to human
fingers or to the joints of a human body is enough for the
infliction of the most exquisite torture. The doctor had been a
very stubborn prisoner, and, as a natural consequence of that
"bad disposition" (so Father Beron called it), his subjugation
had been very crushing and very complete. That is why the limp in
his walk, the twist of his shoulders, the scars on his cheeks
were so pronounced. His confessions, when they came at last, were
very complete, too. Sometimes on the nights when he walked the
floor, he wondered, grinding his teeth with shame and rage, at
the fertility of his imagination when stimulated by a sort of
pain which makes truth, honour, selfrespect, and life itself
matters of little moment.
And he could not forget Father Beron with his monotonous phrase,
"Will you confess now?" reaching him in an awful iteration and
lucidity of meaning through the delirious incoherence of
unbearable pain. He could not forget. But that was not the worst.
Had he met Father Beron in the street after all these years Dr.
Monygham was sure he would have quailed before him. This
contingency was not to be feared now. Father Beron was dead; but
the sickening certitude prevented Dr. Monygham from looking
anybody in the face.
Dr. Monygham. had become, in a manner, the slave of a ghost. It
was obviously impossible to take his knowledge of Father Beron
home to Europe. When making his extorted confessions to the
Military Board, Dr. Monygham was not seeking to avoid death. He
longed for it. Sitting half-naked for hours on the wet earth of
his prison, and so motionless that the spiders, his companions,
attached their webs to his matted hair, he consoled the misery of
his soul with acute reasonings that he had confessed to crimes
enough for a sentence of death--that they had gone too far with
him to let him live to tell the tale.
But, as if by a refinement of cruelty, Dr. Monygham was left for
months to decay slowly in the darkness of his grave-like prison.
It was no doubt hoped that it would finish him off without the
trouble of an execution; but Dr. Monygham had an iron
constitution. It was Guzman Bento who died, not by the knife
thrust of a conspirator, but from a stroke of apoplexy, and Dr.
Monygham was liberated hastily. His fetters were struck off by
the light of a candle, which, after months of gloom, hurt his
eyes so much that he had to cover his face with his hands. He was
raised up. His heart was beating violently with the fear of this
liberty. When he tried to walk the extraordinary lightness of his
feet made him giddy, and he fell down. Two sticks were thrust
into his hands, and he was pushed out of the passage. It was
dusk; candles glimmered already in the windows of the officers'
quarters round the courtyard; but the twilight sky dazed him by
its enormous and overwhelming brilliance. A thin poncho hung over
his naked, bony shoulders; the rags of his trousers came down no
lower than his knees; an eighteen months' growth of hair fell in
dirty grey locks on each side of his sharp cheek-bones. As he
dragged himself past the guard-room door, one of the soldiers,
lolling outside, moved by some obscure impulse, leaped forward
with a strange laugh and rammed a broken old straw hat on his
head. And Dr. Monygham, after having tottered, continued on his
way. He advanced one stick, then one maimed foot, then the other
stick; the other foot followed only a very short distance along
the ground, toilfully, as though it were almost too heavy to be
moved at all; and yet his legs under the hanging angles of the
poncho appeared no thicker than the two sticks in his hands. A
ceaseless trembling agitated his bent body, all his wasted limbs,
his bony head, the conical, ragged crown of the sombrero, whose
ample flat rim rested on his shoulders.
In such conditions of manner and attire did Dr. Monygham go
forth to take possession of his liberty. And these conditions
seemed to bind him indissolubly to the land of Costaguana like an
awful procedure of naturalization, involving him deep in the
national life, far deeper than any amount of success and honour
could have done. They did away with his Europeanism; for Dr.
Monygham had made himself an ideal conception of his disgrace. It
was a conception eminently fit and proper for an officer and a
gentleman. Dr. Monygham, before he went out to Costaguana, had
been surgeon in one of Her Majesty's regiments of foot. It was a
conception which took no account of physiological facts or
reasonable arguments; but it was not stupid for all that. It was
simple. A rule of conduct resting mainly on severe rejections is
necessarily simple. Dr. Monygham's view of what it behoved him
to do was severe; it was an ideal view, in so much that it was
the imaginative exaggeration of a correct feeling. It was also,
in its force, influence, and persistency, the view of an
eminently loyal nature.
There was a great fund of loyalty in Dr. Monygham's nature. He
had settled it all on Mrs. Gould's head. He believed her worthy
of every devotion. At the bottom of his heart he felt an angry
uneasiness before the prosperity of the San Tome mine, because
its growth was robbing her of all peace of mind. Costaguana was
no place for a woman of that kind. What could Charles Gould have
been thinking of when he brought her out there! It was
outrageous! And the doctor had watched the course of events with
a grim and distant reserve which, he imagined, his lamentable
history imposed upon him.
Loyalty to Mrs. Gould could not, however, leave out of account
the safety of her husband. The doctor had contrived to be in town
at the critical time because he mistrusted Charles Gould. He
considered him hopelessly infected with the madness of
revolutions. That is why he hobbled in distress in the
drawing-room of the Casa Gould on that morning, exclaiming,
"Decoud, Decoud!" in a tone of mournful irritation.
Mrs. Gould, her colour heightened, and with glistening eyes,
looked straight before her at the sudden enormity of that
disaster. The finger-tips on one hand rested lightly on a low
little table by her side, and the arm trembled right up to the
shoulder. The sun, which looks late upon Sulaco, issuing in all
the fulness of its power high up on the sky from behind the
dazzling snow-edge of Higuerota, had precipitated the delicate,
smooth, pearly greyness of light, in which the town lies steeped
during the early hours, into sharp-cut masses of black shade and
spaces of hot, blinding glare. Three long rectangles of sunshine
fell through the windows of the sala; while just across the
street the front of the Avellanos's house appeared very sombre in
its own shadow seen through the flood of light.
A voice said at the door, "What of Decoud?"
It was Charles Gould. They had not heard him coming along the
corredor. His glance just glided over his wife and struck full at
"You have brought some news, doctor?"
Dr. Monygham blurted it all out at once, in the rough. For some
time after he had done, the Administrador of the San Tome mine
remained looking at him without a word. Mrs. Gould sank into a
low chair with her hands lying on her lap. A silence reigned
between those three motionless persons. Then Charles Gould
"You must want some breakfast."
He stood aside to let his wife pass first. She caught up her
husband's hand and pressed it as she went out, raising her
handkerchief to her eyes. The sight of her husband had brought
Antonia's position to her mind, and she could not contain her
tears at the thought of the poor girl. When she rejoined the two
men in the diningroom after having bathed her face, Charles Gould
was saying to the doctor across the table--
"No, there does not seem any room for doubt."
And the doctor assented.
"No, I don't see myself how we could question that wretched
Hirsch's tale. It's only too true, I fear."
She sat down desolately at the head of the table and looked from
one to the other. The two men, without absolutely turning their
heads away, tried to avoid her glance. The doctor even made a
show of being hungry; he seized his knife and fork, and began to
eat with emphasis, as if on the stage. Charles Gould made no
pretence of the sort; with his elbows raised squarely, he twisted
both ends of his flaming moustaches--they were so long that his
hands were quite away from his face.
"I am not surprised," he muttered, abandoning his moustaches and
throwing one arm over the back of his chair. His face was calm
with that immobility of expression which betrays the intensity of
a mental struggle. He felt that this accident had brought to a
point all the consequences involved in his line of conduct, with
its conscious and subconscious intentions. There must be an end
now of this silent reserve, of that air of impenetrability behind
which he had been safeguarding his dignity. It was the least
ignoble form of dissembling forced upon him by that parody of
civilized institutions which offended his intelligence, his
uprightness, and his sense of right. He was like his father. He
had no ironic eye. He was not amused at the absurdities that
prevail in this world. They hurt him in his innate gravity. He
felt that the miserable death of that poor Decoud took from him
his inaccessible position of a force in the background. It
committed him openly unless he wished to throw up the game--and
that was impossible. The material interests required from him the
sacrifice of his aloofness--perhaps his own safety too. And he
reflected that Decoud's separationist plan had not gone to the
bottom with the lost silver.
The only thing that was not changed was his position towards Mr.
Holroyd. The head of silver and steel interests had entered into
Costaguana affairs with a sort of passion. Costaguana had become
necessary to his existence; in the San Tome mine he had found the
imaginative satisfaction which other minds would get from drama,
from art, or from a risky and fascinating sport. It was a
special form of the great man's extravagance, sanctioned by a
moral intention, big enough to flatter his vanity. Even in this
aberration of his genius he served the progress of the world.
Charles Gould felt sure of being understood with precision and
judged with the indulgence of their common passion. Nothing now
could surprise or startle this great man. And Charles Gould
imagined himself writing a letter to San Francisco in some such
words: ". . . . The men at the head of the movement are dead or
have fled; the civil organization of the province is at an end
for the present; the Blanco party in Sulaco has collapsed
inexcusably, but in the characteristic manner of this country.
But Barrios, untouched in Cayta, remains still available. I am
forced to take up openly the plan of a provincial revolution as
the only way of placing the enormous material interests involved
in the prosperity and peace of Sulaco in a position of permanent
safety. . . ." That was clear. He saw these words as if written
in letters of fire upon the wall at which he was gazing
Mrs Gould watched his abstraction with dread. It was a domestic
and frightful phenomenon that darkened and chilled the house for
her like a thundercloud passing over the sun. Charles Gould's
fits of abstraction depicted the energetic concentration of a
will haunted by a fixed idea. A man haunted by a fixed idea is
insane. He is dangerous even if that idea is an idea of justice;
for may he not bring the heaven down pitilessly upon a loved
head? The eyes of Mrs. Gould, watching her husband's profile,
filled with tears again. And again she seemed to see the despair
of the unfortunate Antonia.
"What would I have done if Charley had been drowned while we were
engaged?" she exclaimed, mentally, with horror. Her heart turned
to ice, while her cheeks flamed up as if scorched by the blaze of
a funeral pyre consuming all her earthly affections. The tears
burst out of her eyes.
"Antonia will kill herself!" she cried out.
This cry fell into the silence of the room with strangely little
effect. Only the doctor, crumbling up a piece of bread, with his
head inclined on one side, raised his face, and the few long
hairs sticking out of his shaggy eyebrows stirred in a slight
frown. Dr. Monygham thought quite sincerely that Decoud was a
singularly unworthy object for any woman's affection. Then he
lowered his head again, with a curl of his lip, and his heart
full of tender admiration for Mrs. Gould.
"She thinks of that girl," he said to himself; "she thinks of the
Viola children; she thinks of me; of the wounded; of the miners;
she always thinks of everybody who is poor and miserable! But
what will she do if Charles gets the worst of it in this infernal
scrimmage those confounded Avellanos have drawn him into? No one
seems to be thinking of her."
Charles Gould, staring at the wall, pursued his reflections
"I shall write to Holroyd that the San Tome mine is big enough to
take in hand the making of a new State. It'll please him. It'll
reconcile him to the risk."
But was Barrios really available? Perhaps. But he was
inaccessible. To send off a boat to Cayta was no longer possible,
since Sotillo was master of the harbour, and had a steamer at his
disposal. And now, with all the democrats in the province up, and
every Campo township in a state of disturbance, where could he
find a man who would make his way successfully overland to Cayta
with a message, a ten days' ride at least; a man of courage and
resolution, who would avoid arrest or murder, and if arrested
would faithfully eat the paper? The Capataz de Cargadores would
have been just such a man. But the Capataz of the Cargadores was
And Charles Gould, withdrawing his eyes from the wall, said
gently, "That Hirsch! What an extraordinary thing! Saved himself
by clinging to the anchor, did he? I had no idea that he was
still in Sulaco. I thought he had gone back overland to
Esmeralda more than a week ago. He came here once to talk to me
about his hide business and some other things. I made it clear
to him that nothing could be done."
"He was afraid to start back on account of Hernandez being
about," remarked the doctor.
"And but for him we might not have known anything of what has
happened," marvelled Charles Gould.
Mrs. Gould cried out--
"Antonia must not know! She must not be told. Not now."
"Nobody's likely to carry the news," remarked the doctor. "It's
no one's interest. Moreover, the people here are afraid of
Hernandez as if he were the devil." He turned to Charles Gould.
"It's even awkward, because if you wanted to communicate with the
refugees you could find no messenger. When Hernandez was ranging
hundreds of miles away from here the Sulaco populace used to
shudder at the tales of him roasting his prisoners alive."
"Yes," murmured Charles Gould; "Captain Mitchell's Capataz was
the only man in the town who had seen Hernandez eye to eye.
Father Corbelan employed him. He opened the communications first.
It is a pity that--"
His voice was covered by the booming of the great bell of the
cathedral. Three single strokes, one after another, burst out
explosively, dying away in deep and mellow vibrations. And then
all the bells in the tower of every church, convent, or chapel in
town, even those that had remained shut up for years, pealed out
together with a crash. In this furious flood of metallic uproar
there was a power of suggesting images of strife and violence
which blanched Mrs. Gould's cheek. Basilio, who had been waiting
at table, shrinking within himself, clung to the sideboard with
chattering teeth. It was impossible to hear yourself speak.
"Shut these windows!" Charles Gould yelled at him, angrily. All
the other servants, terrified at what they took for the signal of
a general massacre, had rushed upstairs, tumbling over each
other, men and women, the obscure and generally invisible
population of the ground floor on the four sides of the patio.
The women, screaming "Misericordia!" ran right into the room,
and, falling on their knees against the walls, began to cross
themselves convulsively. The staring heads of men blocked the
doorway in an instant--mozos from the stable, gardeners,
nondescript helpers living on the crumbs of the munificent
house--and Charles Gould beheld all the extent of his domestic
establishment, even to the gatekeeper. This was a half-paralyzed
old man, whose long white locks fell down to his shoulders: an
heirloom taken up by Charles Gould's familial piety. He could
remember Henry Gould, an Englishman and a Costaguanero of the
second generation, chief of the Sulaco province; he had been his
personal mozo years and years ago in peace and war; had been
allowed to attend his master in prison; had, on the fatal
morning, followed the firing squad; and, peeping from behind one
of the cypresses growing along the wall of the Franciscan
Convent, had seen, with his eyes starting out of his head, Don
Enrique throw up his hands and fall with his face in the dust.
Charles Gould noted particularly the big patriarchal head of that
witness in the rear of the other servants. But he was surprised
to see a shrivelled old hag or two, of whose existence within the
walls of his house he had not been aware. They must have been the
mothers, or even the grandmothers of some of his people. There
were a few children, too, more or less naked, crying and clinging
to the legs of their elders. He had never before noticed any sign
of a child in his patio. Even Leonarda, the camerista, came in a
fright, pushing through, with her spoiled, pouting face of a
favourite maid, leading the Viola girls by the hand. The crockery
rattled on table and sideboard, and the whole house seemed to
sway in the deafening wave of sound.
DURING the night the expectant populace had taken possession of
all the belfries in the town in order to welcome Pedrito Montero,
who was making his entry after having slept the night in Rincon.
And first came straggling in through the land gate the armed mob
of all colours, complexions, types, and states of raggedness,
calling themselves the Sulaco National Guard, and commanded by
Senor Gamacho. Through the middle of the street streamed, like a
torrent of rubbish, a mass of straw hats, ponchos, gun-barrels,
with an enormous green and yellow flag flapping in their midst,
in a cloud of dust, to the furious beating of drums. The
spectators recoiled against the walls of the houses shouting
their Vivas! Behind the rabble could be seen the lances of the
cavalry, the "army" of Pedro Montero. He advanced between
Senores Fuentes and Gamacho at the head of his llaneros, who had
accomplished the feat of crossing the Paramos of the Higuerota in
a snow-storm. They rode four abreast, mounted on confiscated
Campo horses, clad in the heterogeneous stock of roadside stores
they had looted hurriedly in their rapid ride through the
northern part of the province; for Pedro Montero had been in a
great hurry to occupy Sulaco. The handkerchiefs knotted loosely
around their bare throats were glaringly new, and all the right
sleeves of their cotton shirts had been cut off close to the
shoulder for greater freedom in throwing the lazo. Emaciated
greybeards rode by the side of lean dark youths, marked by all
the hardships of campaigning, with strips of raw beef twined round
the crowns of their hats, and huge iron spurs fastened to their
naked heels. Those that in the passes of the mountain had lost
their lances had provided themselves with the goads used by the
Campo cattlemen: slender shafts of palm fully ten feet long, with
a lot of loose rings jingling under the ironshod point. They were
armed with knives and revolvers. A haggard fearlessness
characterized the expression of all these sun-blacked
countenances; they glared down haughtily with their scorched eyes
at the crowd, or, blinking upwards insolently, pointed out to
each other some particular head amongst the women at the windows.
When they had ridden into the Plaza and caught sight of the
equestrian statue of the King dazzlingly white in the sunshine,
towering enormous and motionless above the surges of the crowd,
with its eternal gesture of saluting, a murmur of surprise ran
through their ranks. "What is that saint in the big hat?" they
asked each other.
They were a good sample of the cavalry of the plains with which
Pedro Montero had helped so much the victorious career of his
brother the general. The influence which that man, brought up in
coast towns, acquired in a short time over the plainsmen of the
Republic can be ascribed only to a genius for treachery of so
effective a kind that it must have appeared to those violent men
but little removed from a state of utter savagery, as the
perfection of sagacity and virtue. The popular lore of all
nations testifies that duplicity and cunning, together with
bodily strength, were looked upon, even more than courage, as
heroic virtues by primitive mankind. To overcome your adversary
was the great affair of life. Courage was taken for granted. But
the use of intelligence awakened wonder and respect. Stratagems,
providing they did not fail, were honourable; the easy massacre
of an unsuspecting enemy evoked no feelings but those of
gladness, pride, and admiration. Not perhaps that primitive men
were more faithless than their descendants of to-day, but that
they went straighter to their aim, and were more artless in their
recognition of success as the only standard of morality.
We have changed since. The use of intelligence awakens little
wonder and less respect. But the ignorant and barbarous plainsmen
engaging in civil strife followed willingly a leader who often
managed to deliver their enemies bound, as it were, into their
hands. Pedro Montero had a talent for lulling his adversaries
into a sense of security. And as men learn wisdom with extreme
slowness, and are always ready to believe promises that flatter
their secret hopes, Pedro Montero was successful time after time.
Whether only a servant or some inferior official in the
Costaguana Legation in Paris, he had rushed back to his country
directly he heard that his brother had emerged from the obscurity
of his frontier commandancia. He had managed to deceive by his
gift of plausibility the chiefs of the Ribierist movement in the
capital, and even the acute agent of the San Tome mine had failed
to understand him thoroughly. At once he had obtained an
enormous influence over his brother. They were very much alike in
appearance, both bald, with bunches of crisp hair above their
ears, arguing the presence of some negro blood. Only Pedro was
smaller than the general, more delicate altogether, with an
ape-like faculty for imitating all the outward signs of
refinement and distinction, and with a parrot-like talent for
languages. Both brothers had received some elementary instruction
by the munificence of a great European traveller, to whom their
father had been a body-servant during his journeys in the
interior of the country. In General Montero's case it enabled him
to rise from the ranks. Pedrito, the younger, incorrigibly lazy
and slovenly, had drifted aimlessly from one coast town to
another, hanging about counting-houses, attaching himself to
strangers as a sort of valet-de-place, picking up an easy and
disreputable living. His ability to read did nothing for him but
fill his head with absurd visions. His actions were usually
determined by motives so improbable in themselves as to escape
the penetration of a rational person.
Thus at first sight the agent of the Gould Concession in Sta.
Marta had credited him with the possession of sane views, and
even with a restraining power over the general's everlastingly
discontented vanity. It could never have entered his head that
Pedrito Montero, lackey or inferior scribe, lodged in the garrets
of the various Parisian hotels where the Costaguana Legation used
to shelter its diplomatic dignity, had been devouring the lighter
sort of historical works in the French language, such, for
instance as the books of Imbert de Saint Amand upon the Second
Empire. But Pedrito had been struck by the splendour of a
brilliant court, and had conceived the idea of an existence for
himself where, like the Duc de Morny, he would associate the
command of every pleasure with the conduct of political affairs
and enjoy power supremely in every way. Nobody could have guessed
that. And yet this was one of the immediate causes of the
Monterist Revolution. This will appear less incredible by the
reflection that the fundamental causes were the same as ever,
rooted in the political immaturity of the people, in the
indolence of the upper classes and the mental darkness of the
Pedrito Montero saw in the elevation of his brother the road wide
open to his wildest imaginings. This was what made the Monterist
pronunciamiento so unpreventable. The general himself probably
could have been bought off, pacified with flatteries, despatched
on a diplomatic mission to Europe. It was his brother who had
egged him on from first to last. He wanted to become the most
brilliant statesman of South America. He did not desire supreme
power. He would have been afraid of its labour and risk, in fact.
Before all, Pedrito Montero, taught by his European experience,
meant to acquire a serious fortune for himself. With this object
in view he obtained from his brother, on the very morrow of the
successful battle, the permission to push on over the mountains
and take possession of Sulaco. Sulaco was the land of future
prosperity, the chosen land of material progress, the only
province in the Republic of interest to European capitalists.
Pedrito Montero, following the example of the Duc de Morny, meant
to have his share of this prosperity. This is what he meant
literally. Now his brother was master of the country, whether as
President, Dictator, or even as Emperor--why not as an
Emperor?--he meant to demand a share in every enterprise--in
railways, in mines, in sugar estates, in cotton mills, in land
companies, in each and every undertaking--as the price of his
protection. The desire to be on the spot early was the real cause
of the celebrated ride over the mountains with some two hundred
llaneros, an enterprise of which the dangers had not appeared at
first clearly to his impatience. Coming from a series of
victories, it seemed to him that a Montero had only to appear to
be master of the situation. This illusion had betrayed him into a
rashness of which he was becoming aware. As he rode at the head
of his llaneros he regretted that there were so few of them. The
enthusiasm of the populace reassured him. They yelled "Viva
Montero! Viva Pedrito!" In order to make them still more
enthusiastic, and from the natural pleasure he had in
dissembling, he dropped the reins on his horse's neck, and with a
tremendous effect of familiarity and confidence slipped his hands
under the arms of Senores Fuentes and Gamacho. In that posture,
with a ragged town mozo holding his horse by the bridle, he rode
triumphantly across the Plaza to the door of the Intendencia. Its
old gloomy walls seemed to shake in the acclamations that rent
the air and covered the crashing peals of the cathedral bells.
Pedro Montero, the brother of the general, dismounted into a
shouting and perspiring throng of enthusiasts whom the ragged
Nationals were pushing back fiercely. Ascending a few steps he
surveyed the large crowd gaping at him. and the bullet-speckled
walls of the houses opposite lightly veiled by a sunny haze of
dust. The word "PORVENIR" in immense black capitals, alternating
with broken windows, stared at him across the vast space; and he
thought with delight of the hour of vengeance, because he was
very sure of laying his hands upon Decoud. On his left hand,
Gamacho, big and hot, wiping his hairy wet face, uncovered a set
of yellow fangs in a grin of stupid hilarity. On his right,
Senor Fuentes, small and lean, looked on with compressed lips.
The crowd stared literally open-mouthed, lost in eager stillness,
as though they had expected the great guerrillero, the famous
Pedrito, to begin scattering at once some sort of visible
largesse. What he began was a speech. He began it with the
shouted word "Citizens!" which reached even those in the middle
of the Plaza. Afterwards the greater part of the citizens
remained fascinated by the orator's action alone, his tip-toeing,
the arms flung above his head with the fists clenched, a hand
laid flat upon the heart, the silver gleam of rolling eyes, the
sweeping, pointing, embracing gestures, a hand laid familiarly on
Gamacho's shoulder; a hand waved formally towards the little
black-coated person of Senor Fuentes, advocate and politician and
a true friend of the people. The vivas of those nearest to the
orator bursting out suddenly propagated themselves irregularly to
the confines of the crowd, like flames running over dry grass,
and expired in the opening of the streets. In the intervals, over
the swarming Plaza brooded a heavy silence, in which the mouth of
the orator went on opening and shutting, and detached
phrases--"The happiness of the people," "Sons of the country,"
"The entire world, el mundo entiero"--reached even the packed
steps of the cathedral with a feeble clear ring, thin as the
buzzing of a mosquito. But the orator struck his breast; he
seemed to prance between his two supporters. It was the supreme
effort of his peroration. Then the two smaller figures
disappeared from the public gaze and the enormous Gamacho, left
alone, advanced, raising his hat high above his head. Then he
covered himself proudly and yelled out, "Ciudadanos!" A dull roar
greeted Senor Gamacho, ex-pedlar of the Campo, Commandante of the
Upstairs Pedrito Montero walked about rapidly from one wrecked
room of the Intendencia to another, snarling incessantly--
"What stupidity! What destruction!"
Senor Fuentes, following, would relax his taciturn disposition to
"It is all the work of Gamacho and his Nationals;" and then,
inclining his head on his left shoulder, would press together his
lips so firmly that a little hollow would appear at each corner.
He had his nomination for Political Chief of the town in his
pocket, and was all impatience to enter upon his functions.
In the long audience room, with its tall mirrors all starred by
stones, the hangings torn down and the canopy over the platform
at the upper end pulled to pieces, the vast, deep muttering of
the crowd and the howling voice of Gamacho speaking just below
reached them through the shutters as they stood idly in dimness
"The brute!" observed his Excellency Don Pedro Montero through
clenched teeth. "We must contrive as quickly as possible to send
him and his Nationals out there to fight Hernandez."
The new Gefe Politico only jerked his head sideways, and took a
puff at his cigarette in sign of his agreement with this method
for ridding the town of Gamacho and his inconvenient rabble.
Pedrito Montero looked with disgust at the absolutely bare floor,
and at the belt of heavy gilt picture-frames running round the
room, out of which the remnants of torn and slashed canvases
fluttered like dingy rags.
"We are not barbarians," he said.
This was what said his Excellency, the popular Pedrito, the
guerrillero skilled in the art of laying ambushes, charged by his
brother at his own demand with the organization of Sulaco on
democratic principles. The night before, during the consultation
with his partisans, who had come out to meet him in Rincon, he
had opened his intentions to Senor Fuentes--
"We shall organize a popular vote, by yes or no, confiding the
destinies of our beloved country to the wisdom and valiance of my
heroic brother, the invincible general. A plebiscite. Do you
And Senor Fuentes, puffing out his leathery cheeks, had inclined
his head slightly to the left, letting a thin, bluish jet of
smoke escape through his pursed lips. He had understood.
His Excellency was exasperated at the devastation. Not a single
chair, table, sofa, etagere or console had been left in the state
rooms of the Intendencia. His Excellency, though twitching all
over with rage, was restrained from bursting into violence by a
sense of his remoteness and isolation. His heroic brother was
very far away. Meantime, how was he going to take his siesta? He
had expected to find comfort and luxury in the Intendencia after
a year of hard camp life, ending with the hardships and
privations of the daring dash upon Sulaco--upon the province
which was worth more in wealth and influence than all the rest of
the Republic's territory. He would get even with Gamacho
by-and-by. And Senor Gamacho's oration, delectable to popular
ears, went on in the heat and glare of the Plaza like the uncouth
howlings of an inferior sort of devil cast into a white-hot
furnace. Every moment he had to wipe his streaming face with his
bare fore-arm; he had flung off his coat, and had turned up the
sleeves of his shirt high above the elbows; but he kept on his
head the large cocked hat with white plumes. His ingenuousness
cherished this sign of his rank as Commandante of the National
Guards. Approving and grave murmurs greeted his periods. His
opinion was that war should be declared at once against France,
England, Germany, and the United States, who, by introducing
railways, mining enterprises, colonization, and under such other
shallow pretences, aimed at robbing poor people of their lands,
and with the help of these Goths and paralytics, the aristocrats
would convert them into toiling and miserable slaves. And the
leperos, flinging about the corners of their dirty white mantas,
yelled their approbation. General Montero, Gamacho howled with
conviction, was the only man equal to the patriotic task. They
assented to that, too.
The morning was wearing on; there were already signs of
disruption, currents and eddies in the crowd. Some were seeking
the shade of the walls and under the trees of the Alameda.
Horsemen spurred through, shouting; groups of sombreros set level
on heads against the vertical sun were drifting away into the
streets, where the open doors of pulperias revealed an enticing
gloom resounding with the gentle tinkling of guitars. The
National Guards were thinking of siesta, and the eloquence of
Gamacho, their chief, was exhausted. Later on, when, in the
cooler hours of the afternoon, they tried to assemble again for
further consideration of public affairs, detachments of Montero's
cavalry camped on the Alameda charged them without parley, at
speed, with long lances levelled at their flying backs as far as
the ends of the streets. The National Guards of Sulaco were
surprised by this proceeding. But they were not indignant. No
Costaguanero had ever learned to question the eccentricities of a
military force. They were part of the natural order of things.
This must be, they concluded, some kind of administrative
measure, no doubt. But the motive of it escaped their unaided
intelligence, and their chief and orator, Gamacho, Commandante of
the National Guard, was lying drunk and asleep in the bosom of
his family. His bare feet were upturned in the shadows
repulsively, in the manner of a corpse. His eloquent mouth had
dropped open. His youngest daughter, scratching her head with one
hand, with the other waved a green bough over his scorched and
THE declining sun had shifted the shadows from west to east
amongst the houses of the town. It had shifted them upon the
whole extent of the immense Campo, with the white walls of its
haciendas on the knolls dominating the green distances; with its
grass-thatched ranches crouching in the folds of ground by the
banks of streams; with the dark islands of clustered trees on a
clear sea of grass, and the precipitous range of the Cordillera,
immense and motionless, emerging from the billows of the lower
forests like the barren coast of a land of giants. The sunset
rays striking the snow-slope of Higuerota from afar gave it an
air of rosy youth, while the serrated mass of distant peaks
remained black, as if calcined in the fiery radiance. The
undulating surface of the forests seemed powdered with pale gold
dust; and away there, beyond Rincon, hidden from the town by two
wooded spurs, the rocks of the San Tome gorge, with the flat wall
of the mountain itself crowned by gigantic ferns, took on warm
tones of brown and yellow, with red rusty streaks, and the dark
green clumps of bushes rooted in crevices. From the plain the
stamp sheds and the houses of the mine appeared dark and small,
high up, like the nests of birds clustered on the ledges of a
cliff. The zigzag paths resembled faint tracings scratched on the
wall of a cyclopean blockhouse. To the two serenos of the mine
on patrol duty, strolling, carbine in hand, and watchful eyes, in
the shade of the trees lining the stream near the bridge, Don
Pepe, descending the path from the upper plateau, appeared no
bigger than a large beetle.
With his air of aimless, insect-like going to and fro upon the
face of the rock, Don Pepe's figure kept on descending steadily,
and, when near the bottom, sank at last behind the roofs of
store-houses, forges, and workshops. For a time the pair of
serenos strolled back and forth before the bridge, on which they
had stopped a horseman holding a large white envelope in his
hand. Then Don Pepe, emerging in the village street from amongst
the houses, not a stone's throw from the frontier bridge,
approached, striding in wide dark trousers tucked into boots, a
white linen jacket, sabre at his side, and revolver at his belt.
In this disturbed time nothing could find the Senor Gobernador
with his boots off, as the saying is.
At a slight nod from one of the serenos, the man, a messenger
from the town, dismounted, and crossed the bridge, leading his
horse by the bridle.
Don Pepe received the letter from his other hand, slapped his
left side and his hips in succession, feeling for his spectacle
case. After settling the heavy silvermounted affair astride his
nose, and adjusting it carefully behind his ears, he opened the
envelope, holding it up at about a foot in front of his eyes. The
paper he pulled out contained some three lines of writing. He
looked at them for a long time. His grey moustache moved slightly
up and down, and the wrinkles, radiating at the corners of his
eyes, ran together. He nodded serenely. "Bueno," he said. "There
is no answer."
Then, in his quiet, kindly way, he engaged in a cautious
conversation with the man, who was willing to talk cheerily, as
if something lucky had happened to him recently. He had seen from
a distance Sotillo's infantry camped along the shore of the
harbour on each side of the Custom House. They had done no damage
to the buildings. The foreigners of the railway remained shut up
within the yards. They were no longer anxious to shoot poor
people. He cursed the foreigners; then he reported Montero's
entry and the rumours of the town. The poor were going to be made
rich now. That was very good. More he did not know, and,
breaking into propitiatory smiles, he intimated that he was
hungry and thirsty. The old major directed him to go to the
alcalde of the first village. The man rode off, and Don Pepe,
striding slowly in the direction of a little wooden belfry,
looked over a hedge into a little garden, and saw Father Roman
sitting in a white hammock slung between two orange trees in
front of the presbytery.
An enormous tamarind shaded with its dark foliage the whole white
framehouse. A young Indian girl with long hair, big eyes, and
small hands and feet, carried out a wooden chair, while a thin
old woman, crabbed and vigilant, watched her all the time from
Don Pepe sat down in the chair and lighted a cigar; the priest
drew in an immense quantity of snuff out of the hollow of his
palm. On his reddish-brown face, worn, hollowed as if crumbled,
the eyes, fresh and candid, sparkled like two black diamonds.
Don Pepe, in a mild and humorous voice, informed Father Roman
that Pedrito Montero, by the hand of Senor Fuentes, had asked him
on what terms he would surrender the mine in proper working order
to a legally constituted commission of patriotic citizens,
escorted by a small military force. The priest cast his eyes up
to heaven. However, Don Pepe continued, the mozo who brought the
letter said that Don Carlos Gould was alive, and so far
Father Roman expressed in a few words his thankfulness at hearing
of the Senor Administrador's safety.
The hour of oration had gone by in the silvery ringing of a bell
in the little belfry. The belt of forest closing the entrance of
the valley stood like a screen between the low sun and the street
of the village. At the other end of the rocky gorge, between the
walls of basalt and granite, a forest-clad mountain, hiding all
the range from the San Tome dwellers, rose steeply, lighted up
and leafy to the very top. Three small rosy clouds hung
motionless overhead in the great depth of blue. Knots of people
sat in the street between the wattled huts. Before the casa of
the alcalde, the foremen of the night-shift, already assembled to
lead their men, squatted on the ground in a circle of leather
skull-caps, and, bowing their bronze backs, were passing round
the gourd of mate. The mozo from the town, having fastened his
horse to a wooden post before the door, was telling them the news
of Sulaco as the blackened gourd of the decoction passed from
hand to hand. The grave alcalde himself, in a white waistcloth
and a flowered chintz gown with sleeves, open wide upon his naked
stout person with an effect of a gaudy bathing robe, stood by,
wearing a rough beaver hat at the back of his head, and grasping
a tall staff with a silver knob in his hand. These insignia of
his dignity had been conferred upon him by the Administration of
the mine, the fountain of honour, of prosperity, and peace. He
had been one of the first immigrants into this valley; his sons
and sons-in-law worked within the mountain which seemed with its
treasures to pour down the thundering ore shoots of the upper
mesa, the gifts of well-being, security, and justice upon the
toilers. He listened to the news from the town with curiosity and
indifference, as if concerning another world than his own. And it
was true that they appeared to him so. In a very few years the
sense of belonging to a powerful organization had been developed
in these harassed, half-wild Indians. They were proud of, and
attached to, the mine. It had secured their confidence and
belief. They invested it with a protecting and invincible virtue
as though it were a fetish made by their own hands, for they were
ignorant, and in other respects did not differ appreciably from
the rest of mankind which puts infinite trust in its own
creations. It never entered the alcalde's head that the mine
could fail in its protection and force. Politics were good enough
for the people of the town and the Campo. His yellow, round face,
with wide nostrils, and motionless in expression, resembled a
fierce full moon. He listened to the excited vapourings of the
mozo without misgivings, without surprise, without any active
Padre Roman sat dejectedly balancing himself, his feet just
touching the ground, his hands gripping the edge of the hammock.
With less confidence, but as ignorant as his flock, he asked the
major what did he think was going to happen now.
Don Pepe, bolt upright in the chair, folded his hands peacefully
on the hilt of his sword, standing perpendicular between his
thighs, and answered that he did not know. The mine could be
defended against any force likely to be sent to take possession.
On the other hand, from the arid character of the valley, when
the regular supplies from the Campo had been cut off, the
population of the three villages could be starved into
submission. Don Pepe exposed these contingencies with serenity
to Father Roman, who, as an old campaigner, was able to
understand the reasoning of a military man. They talked with
simplicity and directness. Father Roman was saddened at the idea
of his flock being scattered or else enslaved. He had no
illusions as to their fate, not from penetration, but from long
experience of political atrocities, which seemed to him fatal and
unavoidable in the life of a State. The working of the usual
public institutions presented itself to him most distinctly as a
series of calamities overtaking private individuals and flowing
logically from each other through hate, revenge, folly, and
rapacity, as though they had been part of a divine dispensation.
Father Roman's clear-sightedness was served by an uninformed
intelligence; but his heart, preserving its tenderness amongst
scenes of carnage, spoliation, and violence, abhorred these
calamities the more as his association with the victims was
closer. He entertained towards the Indians of the valley feelings
of paternal scorn. He had been marrying, baptizing, confessing,
absolving, and burying the workers of the San Tome mine with
dignity and unction for five years or more; and he believed in
the sacredness of these ministrations, which made them his own in
a spiritual sense. They were dear to his sacerdotal supremacy.
Mrs. Gould's earnest interest in the concerns of these people
enhanced their importance in the priest's eyes, because it really
augmented his own. When talking over with her the innumerable
Marias and Brigidas of the villages, he felt his own humanity
expand. Padre Roman was incapable of fanaticism to an almost
reprehensible degree. The English senora was evidently a
heretic; but at the same time she seemed to him wonderful and
angelic. Whenever that confused state of his feelings occurred
to him, while strolling, for instance, his breviary under his
arm, in the wide shade of the tamarind, he would stop short to
inhale with a strong snuffling noise a large quantity of snuff,
and shake his head profoundly. At the thought of what might
befall the illustrious senora presently, he became gradually
overcome with dismay. He voiced it in an agitated murmur. Even
Don Pepe lost his serenity for a moment. He leaned forward
"Listen, Padre. The very fact that those thieving macaques in
Sulaco are trying to find out the price of my honour proves that
Senor Don Carlos and all in the Casa Gould are safe. As to my
honour, that also is safe, as every man, woman, and child knows.
But the negro Liberals who have snatched the town by surprise do
not know that. Bueno. Let them sit and wait. While they wait they
can do no harm."
And he regained his composure. He regained it easily, because
whatever happened his honour of an old officer of Paez was safe.
He had promised Charles Gould that at the approach of an armed
force he would defend the gorge just long enough to give himself
time to destroy scientifically the whole plant, buildings, and
workshops of the mine with heavy charges of dynamite; block with
ruins the main tunnel, break down the pathways, blow up the dam
of the water-power, shatter the famous Gould Concession into
fragments, flying sky high out of a horrified world. The mine had
got hold of Charles Gould with a grip as deadly as ever it had
laid upon his father. But this extreme resolution had seemed to
Don Pepe the most natural thing in the world. His measures had
been taken with judgment. Everything was prepared with a careful
completeness. And Don Pepe folded his hands pacifically on his
sword hilt, and nodded at the priest. In his excitement, Father
Roman had flung snuff in handfuls at his face, and, all besmeared
with tobacco, round-eyed, and beside himself, had got out of the
hammock to walk about, uttering exclamations.
Don Pepe stroked his grey and pendant moustache, whose fine ends
hung far below the clean-cut line of his jaw, and spoke with a
conscious pride in his reputation.
"So, Padre, I don't know what will happen. But I know that as
long as I am here Don Carlos can speak to that macaque, Pedrito
Montero, and threaten the destruction of the mine with perfect
assurance that he will be taken seriously. For people know me."
He began to turn the cigar in his lips a little nervously, and
"But that is talk--good for the politicos. I am a military man. I
do not know what may happen. But I know what ought to be
done--the mine should march upon the town with guns, axes, knives
tied up to sticks--por Dios. That is what should be done.
His folded hands twitched on the hilt. The cigar turned faster in
the corner of his lips.
"And who should lead but I? Unfortunately--observe--I have given
my word of honour to Don Carlos not to let the mine fall into the
hands of these thieves. In war--you know this, Padre--the fate
of battles is uncertain, and whom could I leave here to act for
me in case of defeat? The explosives are ready. But it would
require a man of high honour, of intelligence, of judgment, of
courage, to carry out the prepared destruction. Somebody I can
trust with my honour as I can trust myself. Another old officer
of Paez, for instance. Or--or--perhaps one of Paez's old
chaplains would do."
He got up, long, lank, upright, hard, with his martial moustache
and the bony structure of his face, from which the glance of the
sunken eyes seemed to transfix the priest, who stood still, an
empty wooden snuff-box held upside down in his hand, and glared
back, speechless, at the governor of the mine.
AT ABOUT that time, in the Intendencia of Sulaco, Charles Gould
was assuring Pedrito Montero, who had sent a request for his
presence there, that he would never let the mine pass out of his
hands for the profit of a Government who had robbed him of it.
The Gould Concession could not be resumed. His father had not
desired it. The son would never surrender it. He would never
surrender it alive. And once dead, where was the power capable of
resuscitating such an enterprise in all its vigour and wealth out
of the ashes and ruin of destruction? There was no such power in
the country. And where was the skill and capital abroad that
would condescend to touch such an ill-omened corpse? Charles
Gould talked in the impassive tone which had for many years
served to conceal his anger and contempt. He suffered. He was
disgusted with what he had to say. It was too much like heroics.
In him the strictly practical instinct was in profound discord
with the almost mystic view he took of his right. The Gould
Concession was symbolic of abstract justice. Let the heavens
fall. But since the San Tome mine had developed into world-wide
fame his threat had enough force and effectiveness to reach the
rudimentary intelligence of Pedro Montero, wrapped up as it was
in the futilities of historical anecdotes. The Gould Concession
was a serious asset in the country's finance, and, what was more,
in the private budgets of many officials as well. It was
traditional. It was known. It was said. It was credible. Every
Minister of Interior drew a salary from the San Tome mine. It was
natural. And Pedrito intended to be Minister of the Interior and
President of the Council in his brother's Government. The Duc de
Morny had occupied those high posts during the Second French
Empire with conspicuous advantage to himself.
A table, a chair, a wooden bedstead had been procured for His
Excellency, who, after a short siesta, rendered absolutely
necessary by the labours and the pomps of his entry into Sulaco,
had been getting hold of the administrative machine by making
appointments, giving orders, and signing proclamations. Alone
with Charles Gould in the audience room, His Excellency managed
with his well-known skill to conceal his annoyance and
consternation. He had begun at first to talk loftily of
confiscation, but the want of all proper feeling and mobility in
the Senor Administrador's features ended by affecting adversely
his power of masterful expression. Charles Gould had repeated:
"The Government can certainly bring about the destruction of the
San Tome mine if it likes; but without me it can do nothing
else." It was an alarming pronouncement, and well calculated to
hurt the sensibilities of a politician whose mind is bent upon
the spoils of victory. And Charles Gould said also that the
destruction of the San Tome mine would cause the ruin of other
undertakings, the withdrawal of European capital, the
withholding, most probably, of the last instalment of the foreign
loan. That stony fiend of a man said all these things (which were
accessible to His Excellency's intelligence) in a coldblooded
manner which made one shudder.
A long course of reading historical works, light and gossipy in
tone, carried out in garrets of Parisian hotels, sprawling on an
untidy bed, to the neglect of his duties, menial or otherwise,
had affected the manners of Pedro Montero. Had he seen around him
the splendour of the old Intendencia, the magnificent hangings,
the gilt furniture ranged along the walls; had he stood upon a
dais on a noble square of red carpet, he would have probably been
very dangerous from a sense of success and elevation. But in this
sacked and devastated residence, with the three pieces of common
furniture huddled up in the middle of the vast apartment,
Pedrito's imagination was subdued by a feeling of insecurity and
impermanence. That feeling and the firm attitude of Charles
Gould who had not once, so far, pronounced the word "Excellency,"
diminished him in his own eyes. He assumed the tone of an
enlightened man of the world, and begged Charles Gould to dismiss
from his mind every cause for alarm. He was now conversing, he
reminded him, with the brother of the master of the country,
charged with a reorganizing mission. The trusted brother of the
master of the country, he repeated. Nothing was further from the
thoughts of that wise and patriotic hero than ideas of
destruction. "I entreat you, Don Carlos, not to give way to your
anti-democratic prejudices," he cried, in a burst of
Pedrito Montero surprised one at first sight by the vast
development of his bald forehead, a shiny yellow expanse between
the crinkly coal-black tufts of hair without any lustre, the
engaging form of his mouth, and an unexpectedly cultivated voice.
But his eyes, very glistening as if freshly painted on each side
of his hooked nose, had a round, hopeless, birdlike stare when
opened fully. Now, however, he narrowed them agreeably, throwing
his square chin up and speaking with closed teeth slightly
through the nose, with what he imagined to be the manner of a
In that attitude, he declared suddenly that the highest
expression of democracy was Caesarism: the imperial rule based
upon the direct popular vote. Caesarism was conservative. It was
strong. It recognized the legitimate needs of democracy which
requires orders, titles, and distinctions. They would be showered
upon deserving men. Caesarism was peace. It was progressive. It
secured the prosperity of a country. Pedrito Montero was carried
away. Look at what the Second Empire had done for France. It was
a regime which delighted to honour men of Don Carlos's stamp.
The Second Empire fell, but that was because its chief was devoid
of that military genius which had raised General Montero to the
pinnacle of fame and glory. Pedrito elevated his hand jerkily to
help the idea of pinnacle, of fame. "We shall have many talks
yet. We shall understand each other thoroughly, Don Carlos!" he
cried in a tone of fellowship. Republicanism had done its work.
Imperial democracy was the power of the future. Pedrito, the
guerrillero, showing his hand, lowered his voice forcibly. A man
singled out by his fellow-citizens for the honourable nickname of
El Rey de Sulaco could not but receive a full recognition from an
imperial democracy as a great captain of industry and a person of
weighty counsel, whose popular designation would be soon replaced
by a more solid title. "Eh, Don Carlos? No! What do you say?
Conde de Sulaco--Eh?--or marquis . . ."
He ceased. The air was cool on the Plaza, where a patrol of
cavalry rode round and round without penetrating into the
streets, which resounded with shouts and the strumming of guitars
issuing from the open doors of pulperias. The orders were not to
interfere with the enjoyments of the people. And above the roofs,
next to the perpendicular lines of the cathedral towers the snowy
curve of Higuerota blocked a large space of darkening blue sky
before the windows of the Intendencia. After a time Pedrito
Montero, thrusting his hand in the bosom of his coat, bowed his
head with slow dignity. The audience was over.
Charles Gould on going out passed his hand over his forehead as
if to disperse the mists of an oppressive dream, whose grotesque
extravagance leaves behind a subtle sense of bodily danger and
intellectual decay. In the passages and on the staircases of the
old palace Montero's troopers lounged about insolently, smoking
and making way for no one; the clanking of sabres and spurs
resounded all over the building. Three silent groups of civilians
in severe black waited in the main gallery, formal and helpless,
a little huddled up, each keeping apart from the others, as if in
the exercise of a public duty they had been overcome by a desire
to shun the notice of every eye. These were the deputations
waiting for their audience. The one from the Provincial Assembly,
more restless and uneasy in its corporate expression, was
overtopped by the big face of Don Juste Lopez, soft and white,
with prominent eyelids and wreathed in impenetrable solemnity as
if in a dense cloud. The President of the Provincial Assembly,
coming bravely to save the last shred of parliamentary
institutions (on the English model), averted his eyes from the
Administrador of the San Tome mine as a dignified rebuke of his
little faith in that only saving principle.
The mournful severity of that reproof did not affect Charles
Gould, but he was sensible to the glances of the others directed
upon him without reproach, as if only to read their own fate upon
his face. All of them had talked, shouted, and declaimed in the
great sala of the Casa Gould. The feeling of compassion for those
men, struck with a strange impotence in the toils of moral
degradation, did not induce him to make a sign. He suffered from
his fellowship in evil with them too much. He crossed the Plaza
unmolested. The Amarilla Club was full of festive ragamuffins.
Their frowsy heads protruded from every window, and from within
came drunken shouts, the thumping of feet, and the twanging of
harps. Broken bottles strewed the pavement below. Charles Gould
found the doctor still in his house.
Dr. Monygham came away from the crack in the shutter through
which he had been watching the street.
"Ah! You are back at last!" he said in a tone of relief. "I have
been telling Mrs. Gould that you were perfectly safe, but I was
not by any means certain that the fellow would have let you go."
"Neither was I," confessed Charles Gould, laying his hat on the
"You will have to take action."
The silence of Charles Gould seemed to admit that this was the
only course. This was as far as Charles Gould was accustomed to
go towards expressing his intentions.
"I hope you did not warn Montero of what you mean to do," the
doctor said, anxiously.
"I tried to make him see that the existence of the mine was bound
up with my personal safety," continued Charles Gould, looking
away from the doctor, and fixing his eyes upon the water-colour
sketch upon the wall.
"He believed you?" the doctor asked, eagerly.
"God knows!" said Charles Gould. "I owed it to my wife to say
that much. He is well enough informed. He knows that I have Don
Pepe there. Fuentes must have told him. They know that the old
major is perfectly capable of blowing up the San Tome mine
without hesitation or compunction. Had it not been for that I
don't think I'd have left the Intendencia a free man. He would
blow everything up from loyalty and from hate--from hate of these
Liberals, as they call themselves. Liberals! The words one knows
so well have a nightmarish meaning in this country. Liberty,
democracy, patriotism, government--all of them have a flavour of
folly and murder. Haven't they, doctor? . . . I alone can
restrain Don Pepe. If they were to--to do away with me, nothing
could prevent him."
"They will try to tamper with him," the doctor suggested,
"It is very possible," Charles Gould said very low, as if
speaking to himself, and still gazing at the sketch of the San
Tome gorge upon the wall. "Yes, I expect they will try that."
Charles Gould looked for the first time at the doctor. "It would
give me time," he added.
"Exactly," said Dr. Monygham, suppressing his excitement.
"Especially if Don Pepe behaves diplomatically. Why shouldn't he
give them some hope of success? Eh? Otherwise you wouldn't gain
so much time. Couldn't he be instructed to--"
Charles Gould, looking at the doctor steadily, shook his head,
but the doctor continued with a certain amount of fire--
"Yes, to enter into negotiations for the surrender of the mine.
It is a good notion. You would mature your plan. Of course, I
don't ask what it is. I don't want to know. I would refuse to
listen to you if you tried to tell me. I am not fit for
"What nonsense!" muttered Charles Gould, with displeasure.
He disapproved of the doctor's sensitiveness about that far-off
episode of his life. So much memory shocked Charles Gould. It was
like morbidness. And again he shook his head. He refused to
tamper with the open rectitude of Don Pepe's conduct, both from
taste and from policy. Instructions would have to be either
verbal or in writing. In either case they ran the risk of being
intercepted. It was by no means certain that a messenger could
reach the mine; and, besides, there was no one to send. It was on
the tip of Charles's tongue to say that only the late Capataz de
Cargadores could have been employed with some chance of success
and the certitude of discretion. But he did not say that. He
pointed out to the doctor that it would have been bad policy.
Directly Don Pepe let it be supposed that he could be bought
over, the Administrador's personal safety and the safety of his
friends would become endangered. For there would be then no
reason for moderation. The incorruptibility of Don Pepe was the
essential and restraining fact. The doctor hung his head and
admitted that in a way it was so.
He couldn't deny to himself that the reasoning was sound enough.
Don Pepe's usefulness consisted in his unstained character. As to
his own usefulness, he reflected bitterly it was also his own
character. He declared to Charles Gould that he had the means of
keeping Sotillo from joining his forces with Montero, at least
for the present.
"If you had had all this silver here," the doctor said, "or even
if it had been known to be at the mine, you could have bribed
Sotillo to throw off his recent Monterism. You could have
induced him either to go away in his steamer or even to join
"Certainly not that last," Charles Gould declared, firmly. "What
could one do with a man like that, afterwards--tell me, doctor?
The silver is gone, and I am glad of it. It would have been an
immediate and strong temptation. The scramble for that visible
plunder would have precipitated a disastrous ending. I would
have had to defend it, too. I am glad we've removed it--even if
it is lost. It would have been a danger and a curse."
"Perhaps he is right," the doctor, an hour later, said hurriedly
to Mrs. Gould, whom he met in the corridor. "The thing is done,
and the shadow of the treasure may do just as well as the
substance. Let me try to serve you to the whole extent of my evil
reputation. I am off now to play my game of betrayal with
Sotillo, and keep him off the town."
She put out both her hands impulsively. "Dr. Monygham, you are
running a terrible risk," she whispered, averting from his face
her eyes, full of tears, for a short glance at the door of her
husband's room. She pressed both his hands, and the doctor stood
as if rooted to the spot, looking down at her, and trying to
twist his lips into a smile.
"Oh, I know you will defend my memory," he uttered at last, and
ran tottering down the stairs across the patio, and out of the
house. In the street he kept up. a great pace with his smart
hobbling walk, a case of instruments under his arm. He was known
for being loco. Nobody interfered with him. From under the
seaward gate, across the dusty, arid plain, interspersed with low
bushes, he saw, more than a mile away, the ugly enormity of the
Custom House, and the two or three other buildings which at that
time constituted the seaport of Sulaco. Far away to the south
groves of palm trees edged the curve of the harbour shore. The
distant peaks of the Cordillera had lost their identity of
clearcut shapes in the steadily deepening blue of the eastern
sky. The doctor walked briskly. A darkling shadow seemed to fall
upon him from the zenith. The sun had set. For a time the snows
of Higuerota continued to glow with the reflected glory of the
west. The doctor, holding a straight course for the Custom House,
appeared lonely, hopping amongst the dark bushes like a tall bird
with a broken wing.
Tints of purple, gold, and crimson were mirrored in the clear
water of the harbour. A long tongue of land, straight as a wall,
with the grass-grown ruins of the fort making a sort of rounded
green mound, plainly visible from the inner shore, closed its
circuit; while beyond the Placid Gulf repeated those splendours
of colouring on a greater scale and with a more sombre
magnificence. The great mass of cloud filling the head of the
gulf had long red smears amongst its convoluted folds of grey and
black, as of a floating mantle stained with blood. The three
Isabels, overshadowed and clear cut in a great smoothness
confounding the sea and sky, appeared suspended, purple-black, in
the air. The little wavelets seemed to be tossing tiny red
sparks upon the sandy beaches. The glassy bands of water along
the horizon gave out a fiery red glow, as if fire and water had
been mingled together in the vast bed of the ocean.
At last the conflagration of sea and sky, lying embraced and
still in a flaming contact upon the edge of the world, went out.
The red sparks in the water vanished together with the stains of
blood in the black mantle draping the sombre head of the Placid
Gulf; a sudden breeze sprang up and died out after rustling
heavily the growth of bushes on the ruined earthwork of the fort.
Nostromo woke up from a fourteen hours' sleep, and arose full
length from his lair in the long grass. He stood knee deep
amongst the whispering undulations of the green blades with the
lost air of a man just born into the world. Handsome, robust, and
supple, he threw back his head, flung his arms open, and
stretched himself with a slow twist of the waist and a leisurely
growling yawn of white teeth, as natural and free from evil in
the moment of waking as a magnificent and unconscious wild beast.
Then, in the suddenly steadied glance fixed upon nothing from
under a thoughtful frown, appeared the man.
AFTER landing from his swim Nostromo had scrambled up, all
dripping, into the main quadrangle of the old fort; and there,
amongst ruined bits of walls and rotting remnants of roofs and
sheds, he had slept the day through. He had slept in the shadow
of the mountains, in the white blaze of noon, in the stillness
and solitude of that overgrown piece of land between the oval of
the harbour and the spacious semi-circle of the gulf. He lay as
if dead. A rey-zamuro, appearing like a tiny black speck in the
blue, stooped, circling prudently with a stealthiness of flight
startling in a bird of that great size. The shadow of his
pearly-white body, of his black-tipped wings, fell on the grass
no more silently than he alighted himself on a hillock of rubbish
within three yards of that man, lying as still as a corpse. The
bird stretched his bare neck, craned his bald head, loathsome in
the brilliance of varied colouring, with an air of voracious
anxiety towards the promising stillness of that prostrate body.
Then, sinking his head deeply into his soft plumage, he settled
himself to wait. The first thing upon which Nostromo's eyes fell
on waking was this patient watcher for the signs of death and
corruption. When the man got up the vulture hopped away in great,
side-long, fluttering jumps. He lingered for a while, morose and
reluctant, before he rose, circling noiselessly with a sinister
droop of beak and claws.
Long after he had vanished, Nostromo, lifting his eyes up to the
sky, muttered, "I am not dead yet."
The Capataz of the Sulaco Cargadores had lived in splendour and
publicity up to the very moment, as it were, when he took charge
of the lighter containing the treasure of silver ingots.
The last act he had performed in Sulaco was in complete harmony
with his vanity, and as such perfectly genuine. He had given his
last dollar to an old woman moaning with the grief and fatigue of
a dismal search under the arch of the ancient gate. Performed in
obscurity and without witnesses, it had still the characteristics
of splendour and publicity, and was in strict keeping with his
reputation. But this awakening in solitude, except for the
watchful vulture, amongst the ruins of the fort, had no such
characteristics. His first confused feeling was exactly
this--that it was not in keeping. It was more like the end of
things. The necessity of living concealed somehow, for God knows
how long, which assailed him on his return to consciousness, made
everything that had gone before for years appear vain and
foolish, like a flattering dream come suddenly to an end.
He climbed the crumbling slope of the rampart, and, putting aside
the bushes, looked upon the harbour. He saw a couple of ships at
anchor upon the sheet of water reflecting the last gleams of
light, and Sotillo's steamer moored to the jetty. And behind the
pale long front of the Custom House, there appeared the extent of
the town like a grove of thick timber on the plain with a gateway
in front, and the cupolas, towers, and miradors rising above the
trees, all dark, as if surrendered already to the night. The
thought that it was no longer open to him to ride through the
streets, recognized by everyone, great and little, as he used to
do every evening on his way to play monte in the posada of the
Mexican Domingo; or to sit in the place of honour, listening to
songs and looking at dances, made it appear to him as a town that
had no existence.
For a long time he gazed on, then let the parted bushes spring
back, and, crossing over to the other side of the fort, surveyed
the vaster emptiness of the great gulf. The Isabels stood out
heavily upon the narrowing long band of red in the west, which
gleamed low between their black shapes, and the Capataz thought
of Decoud alone there with the treasure. That man was the only
one who cared whether he fell into the hands of the Monterists or
not, the Capataz reflected bitterly. And that merely would be an
anxiety for his own sake. As to the rest, they neither knew nor
cared. What he had heard Giorgio Viola say once was very true.
Kings, ministers, aristocrats, the rich in general, kept the
people in poverty and subjection; they kept them as they kept
dogs, to fight and hunt for their service.
The darkness of the sky had descended to the line of the horizon,
enveloping the whole gulf, the islets, and the lover of Antonia
alone with the treasure on the Great Isabel. The Capataz, turning
his back on these things invisible and existing, sat down and
took his face between his fists. He felt the pinch of poverty for
the first time in his life. To find himself without money after a
run of bad luck at monte in the low, smoky room of Domingo's
posada, where the fraternity of Cargadores gambled, sang, and
danced of an evening; to remain with empty pockets after a burst
of public generosity to some peyne d'oro girl or other (for whom
he did not care), had none of the humiliation of destitution. He
remained rich in glory and reputation. But since it was no longer
possible for him to parade the streets of the town, and be hailed
with respect in the usual haunts of his leisure, this sailor felt
himself destitute indeed.
His mouth was dry. It was dry with heavy sleep and extremely
anxious thinking, as it had never been dry before. It may be said
that Nostromo tasted the dust and ashes of the fruit of life into
which he had bitten deeply in his hunger for praise. Without
removing his head from between his fists, he tried to spit before
him--"Tfui"--and muttered a curse upon the selfishness of all the
Since everything seemed lost in Sulaco (and that was the feeling
of his waking), the idea of leaving the country altogether had
presented itself to Nostromo. At that thought he had seen, like
the beginning of another dream, a vision of steep and tideless
shores, with dark pines on the heights and white houses low down
near a very blue sea. He saw the quays of a big port, where the
coasting feluccas, with their lateen sails outspread like
motionless wings, enter gliding silently between the end of long
moles of squared blocks that project angularly towards each
other, hugging a cluster of shipping to the superb bosom of a
hill covered with palaces. He remembered these sights not without
some filial emotion, though he had been habitually and severely
beaten as a boy on one of these feluccas by a short-necked,
shaven Genoese, with a deliberate and distrustful manner, who (he
firmly believed) had cheated him out of his orphan's inheritance.
But it is mercifully decreed that the evils of the past should
appear but faintly in retrospect. Under the sense of loneliness,
abandonment, and failure, the idea of return to these things
appeared tolerable. But, what? Return? With bare feet and head,
with one check shirt and a pair of cotton calzoneros for all
The renowned Capataz, his elbows on his knees and a fist dug into
each cheek, laughed with self-derision, as he had spat with
disgust, straight out before him into the night. The confused and
intimate impressions of universal dissolution which beset a
subjective nature at any strong check to its ruling passion had a
bitterness approaching that of death itself. He was simple. He
was as ready to become the prey of any belief, superstition, or
desire as a child.
The facts of his situation he could appreciate like a man with a
distinct experience of the country. He saw them clearly. He was
as if sobered after a long bout of intoxication. His fidelity had
been taken advantage of. He had persuaded the body of Cargadores
to side with the Blancos against the rest of the people; he had
had interviews with Don Jose; he had been made use of by Father
Corbelan for negotiating with Hernandez; it was known that Don
Martin Decoud had admitted him to a sort of intimacy, so that he
had been free of the offices of the Porvenir. All these things
had flattered him in the usual way. What did he care about their
politics? Nothing at all. And at the end of it all--Nostromo
here and Nostromo there--where is Nostromo? Nostromo can do this
and that--work all day and ride all night--behold! he found
himself a marked Ribierist for any sort of vengeance Gamacho, for
instance, would choose to take, now the Montero party, had, after
all, mastered the town. The Europeans had given up; the
Caballeros had given up. Don Martin had indeed explained it was
only temporary--that he was going to bring Barrios to the
rescue. Where was that now--with Don Martin (whose ironic manner
of talk had always made the Capataz feel vaguely uneasy) stranded
on the Great Isabel? Everybody had given up. Even Don Carlos had
given up. The hurried removal of the treasure out to sea meant
nothing else than that. The Capataz de Cargadores, on a revulsion
of subjectiveness, exasperated almost to insanity, beheld all his
world without faith and courage. He had been betrayed!
With the boundless shadows of the sea behind him, out of his
silence and immobility, facing the lofty shapes of the lower
peaks crowded around the white, misty sheen of Higuerota,
Nostromo laughed aloud again, sprang abruptly to his feet, and
stood still. He must go. But where?
"There is no mistake. They keep us and encourage us as if we were
dogs born to fight and hunt for them. The vecchio is right," he
said, slowly and scathingly. He remembered old Giorgio taking
his pipe out of his mouth to throw these words over his shoulder
at the cafe, full of engine-drivers and fitters from the railway
workshops. This image fixed his wavering purpose. He would try
to find old Giorgio if he could. God knows what might have
happened to him! He made a few steps, then stopped again and
shook his head. To the left and right, in front and behind him,
the scrubby bush rustled mysteriously in the darkness.
"Teresa was right, too," he added in a low tone touched with awe.
He wondered whether she was dead in her anger with him or still
alive. As if in answer to this thought, half of remorse and half
of hope, with a soft flutter and oblique flight, a big owl, whose
appalling cry: "Ya-acabo! Ya-acabo!--it is finished; it is
finished"--announces calamity and death in the popular belief,
drifted vaguely like a large dark ball across his path. In the
downfall of all the realities that made his force, he was
affected by the superstition, and shuddered slightly. Signora
Teresa must have died, then. It could mean nothing else. The cry
of the ill-omened bird, the first sound he was to hear on his
return, was a fitting welcome for his betrayed individuality. The
unseen powers which he had offended by refusing to bring a priest
to a dying woman were lifting up their voice against him. She was
dead. With admirable and human consistency he referred everything
to himself. She had been a woman of good counsel always. And the
bereaved old Giorgio remained stunned by his loss just as he was
likely to require the advice of his sagacity. The blow would
render the dreamy old man quite stupid for a time.
As to Captain Mitchell, Nostromo, after the manner of trusted
subordinates, considered him as a person fitted by education
perhaps to sign papers in an office and to give orders, but
otherwise of no use whatever, and something of a fool. The
necessity of winding round his little finger, almost daily, the
pompous and testy self-importance of the old seaman had grown
irksome with use to Nostromo. At first it had given him an inward
satisfaction. But the necessity of overcoming small obstacles
becomes wearisome to a self-confident personality as much by the
certitude of success as by the monotony of effort. He mistrusted
his superior's proneness to fussy action. That old Englishman had
no judgment, he said to himself. It was useless to suppose that,
acquainted with the true state of the case, he would keep it to
himself. He would talk of doing impracticable things. Nostromo
feared him as one would fear saddling one's self with some
persistent worry. He had no discretion. He would betray the
treasure. And Nostromo had made up his mind that the treasure
should not be betrayed.
The word had fixed itself tenaciously in his intelligence. His
imagination had seized upon the clear and simple notion of
betrayal to account for the dazed feeling of enlightenment as to
being done for, of having inadvertently gone out of his existence
on an issue in which his personality had not been taken into
account. A man betrayed is a man destroyed. Signora Teresa (may
God have her soul!) had been right. He had never been taken into
account. Destroyed! Her white form sitting up bowed in bed, the
falling black hair, the wide-browed suffering face raised to him,
the anger of her denunciations appeared to him now majestic with
the awfulness of inspiration and of death. For it was not for
nothing that the evil bird had uttered its lamentable shriek over
his head. She was dead--may God have her soul!
Sharing in the anti-priestly freethought of the masses, his mind
used the pious formula from the superficial force of habit, but
with a deep-seated sincerity. The popular mind is incapable of
scepticism; and that incapacity delivers their helpless strength
to the wiles of swindlers and to the pitiless enthusiasms of
leaders inspired by visions of a high destiny. She was dead. But
would God consent to receive her soul? She had died without
confession or absolution, because he had not been willing to
spare her another moment of his time. His scorn of priests as
priests remained; but after all, it was impossible to know
whether what they affirmed was not true. Power, punishment,
pardon, are simple and credible notions. The magnificent Capataz
de Cargadores, deprived of certain simple realities, such as the
admiration of women, the adulation of men, the admired publicity
of his life, was ready to feel the burden of sacrilegious guilt
descend upon his shoulders.
Bareheaded, in a thin shirt and drawers, he felt the lingering
warmth of the fine sand under the soles of his feet. The narrow
strand gleamed far ahead in a long curve, defining the outline of
this wild side of the harbour. He flitted along the shore like a
pursued shadow between the sombre palm-groves and the sheet of
water lying as still as death on his right hand. He strode with
headlong haste in the silence and solitude as though he had
forgotten all prudence and caution. But he knew that on this
side of the water he ran no risk of discovery. The only
inhabitant was a lonely, silent, apathetic Indian in charge of
the palmarias, who brought sometimes a load of cocoanuts to the
town for sale. He lived without a woman in an open shed, with a
perpetual fire of dry sticks smouldering near an old canoe lying
bottom up on the beach. He could be easily avoided.
The barking of the dogs about that man's ranche was the first
thing that checked his speed. He had forgotten the dogs. He
swerved sharply, and plunged into the palm-grove, as into a
wilderness of columns in an immense hall, whose dense obscurity
seemed to whisper and rustle faintly high above his head. He
traversed it, entered a ravine, and climbed to the top of a steep
ridge free of trees and bushes.
From there, open and vague in the starlight, he saw the plain
between the town and the harbour. In the woods above some
night-bird made a strange drumming noise. Below beyond the
palmaria on the beach, the Indian's dogs continued to bark
uproariously. He wondered what had upset them so much, and,
peering down from his elevation, was surprised to detect
unaccountable movements of the ground below, as if several oblong
pieces of the plain had been in motion. Those dark, shifting
patches, alternately catching and eluding the eye, altered their
place always away from the harbour, with a suggestion of
consecutive order and purpose. A light dawned upon him. It was a
column of infantry on a night march towards the higher broken
country at the foot of the hills. But he was too much in the dark
about everything for wonder and speculation.
The plain had resumed its shadowy immobility. He descended the
ridge and found himself in the open solitude, between the harbour
and the town. Its spaciousness, extended indefinitely by an
effect of obscurity, rendered more sensible his profound
isolation. His pace became slower. No one waited for him; no one
thought of him; no one expected or wished his return. "Betrayed!
Betrayed!" he muttered to himself. No one cared. He might have
been drowned by this time. No one would have cared--unless,
perhaps, the children, he thought to himself. But they were with
the English signora, and not thinking of him at all.
He wavered in his purpose of making straight for the Casa Viola.
To what end? What could he expect there? His life seemed to fail
him in all its details, even to the scornful reproaches of
Teresa. He was aware painfully of his reluctance. Was it that
remorse which she had prophesied with, what he saw now, was her
Meantime, he had deviated from the straight course, inclining by
a sort of instinct to the right, towards the jetty and the
harbour, the scene of his daily labours. The great length of the
Custom House loomed up all at once like the wall of a factory.
Not a soul challenged his approach, and his curiosity became
excited as he passed cautiously towards the front by the
unexpected sight of two lighted windows.
They had the fascination of a lonely vigil kept by some
mysterious watcher up there, those two windows shining dimly upon
the harbour in the whole vast extent of the abandoned building.
The solitude could almost be felt. A strong smell of wood smoke
hung about in a thin haze, which was faintly perceptible to his
raised eyes against the glitter of the stars. As he advanced in
the profound silence, the shrilling of innumerable cicalas in the
dry grass seemed positively deafening to his strained ears.
Slowly, step by step, he found himself in the great hall, sombre
and full of acrid smoke.
A fire built against the staircase had burnt down impotently to a
low heap of embers. The hard wood had failed to catch; only a few
steps at the bottom smouldered, with a creeping glow of sparks
defining their charred edges. At the top he saw a streak of light
from an open door. It fell upon the vast landing, all foggy with
a slow drift of smoke. That was the room. He climbed the stairs,
then checked himself, because he had seen within the shadow of a
man cast upon one of the walls. It was a shapeless,
highshouldered shadow of somebody standing still, with lowered
head, out of his line of sight. The Capataz, remembering that he
was totally unarmed, stepped aside, and, effacing himself upright
in a dark corner, waited with his eyes fixed on the door.
The whole enormous ruined barrack of a place, unfinished, without
ceilings under its lofty roof, was pervaded by the smoke swaying
to and fro in the faint cross draughts playing in the obscurity
of many lofty rooms and barnlike passages. Once one of the
swinging shutters came against the wall with a single sharp
crack, as if pushed by an impatient hand. A piece of paper
scurried out from somewhere, rustling along the landing. The
man, whoever he was, did not darken the lighted doorway. Twice
the Capataz, advancing a couple of steps out of his corner,
craned his neck in the hope of catching sight of what he could be
at, so quietly, in there. But every time he saw only the
distorted shadow of broad shoulders and bowed head. He was doing
apparently nothing, and stirred not from the spot, as though he
were meditating--or, perhaps, reading a paper. And not a sound
issued from the room.
Once more the Capataz stepped back. He wondered who it was--some
Monterist? But he dreaded to show himself. To discover his
presence on shore, unless after many days, would, he believed,
endanger the treasure. With his own knowledge possessing his
whole soul, it seemed impossible that anybody in Sulaco should
fail to jump at the right surmise. After a couple of weeks or so
it would be different. Who could tell he had not returned
overland from some port beyond the limits of the Republic? The
existence of the treasure confused his thoughts with a peculiar
sort of anxiety, as though his life had become bound up with it.
It rendered him timorous for a moment before that enigmatic,
lighted door. Devil take the fellow! He did not want to see him.
There would be nothing to learn from his face, known or unknown.
He was a fool to waste his time there in waiting.
Less than five minutes after entering the place the Capataz began
his retreat. He got away down the stairs with perfect success,
gave one upward look over his shoulder at the light on the
landing, and ran stealthily across the hall. But at the very
moment he was turning out of the great door, with his mind fixed
upon escaping the notice of the man upstairs, somebody he had not
heard coming briskly along the front ran full into him. Both
muttered a stifled exclamation of surprise, and leaped back and
stood still, each indistinct to the other. Nostromo was silent.
The other man spoke first, in an amazed and deadened tone.
"Who are you?"
Already Nostromo had seemed to recognize Dr. Monygham. He had no
doubt now. He hesitated the space of a second. The idea of
bolting without a word presented itself to his mind. No use! An
inexplicable repugnance to pronounce the name by which he was
known kept him silent a little longer. At last he said in a low
He walked up to the other. Dr. Monygham had received a shock. He
flung his arms up and cried out his wonder aloud, forgetting
himself before the marvel of this meeting. Nostromo angrily
warned him to moderate his voice. The Custom House was not so
deserted as it looked. There was somebody in the lighted room
There is no more evanescent quality in an accomplished fact than
its wonderfulness. Solicited incessantly by the considerations
affecting its fears and desires, the human mind turns naturally
away from the marvellous side of events. And it was in the most
natural way possible that the doctor asked this man whom only two
minutes before he believed to have been drowned in the gulf--
"You have seen somebody up there? Have you?"
"No, I have not seen him."
"Then how do you know?"
"I was running away from his shadow when we met."
"Yes. His shadow in the lighted room," said Nostromo, in a
contemptuous tone. Leaning back with folded arms at the foot of
the immense building, he dropped his head, biting his lips
slightly, and not looking at the doctor. "Now," he thought to
himself, "he will begin asking me about the treasure."
But the doctor's thoughts were concerned with an event not as
marvellous as Nostromo's appearance, but in itself much less
clear. Why had Sotillo taken himself off with his whole command
with this suddenness and secrecy? What did this move portend?
However, it dawned upon the doctor that the man upstairs was one
of the officers left behind by the disappointed colonel to
communicate with him.
"I believe he is waiting for me," he said.
"It is possible."
"I must see. Do not go away yet, Capataz."
"Go away where?" muttered Nostromo.
Already the doctor had left him. He remained leaning against the
wall, staring at the dark water of the harbour; the shrilling of
cicalas filled his ears. An invincible vagueness coming over his
thoughts took from them all power to determine his will.
"Capataz! Capataz!" the doctor's voice called urgently from
The sense of betrayal and ruin floated upon his sombre
indifference as upon a sluggish sea of pitch. But he stepped out
from under the wall, and, looking up, saw Dr. Monygham leaning
out of a lighted window.
"Come up and see what Sotillo has done. You need not fear the man
He answered by a slight, bitter laugh. Fear a man! The Capataz
of the Sulaco Cargadores fear a man! It angered him that anybody
should suggest such a thing. It angered him to be disarmed and
skulking and in danger because of the accursed treasure, which
was of so little account to the people who had tied it round his
neck. He could not shake off the worry of it. To Nostromo the
doctor represented all these people. . . . And he had never even
asked after it. Not a word of inquiry about the most desperate
undertaking of his life.
Thinking these thoughts, Nostromo passed again through the
cavernous hall, where the smoke was considerably thinned, and
went up the stairs, not so warm to his feet now, towards the
streak of light at the top. The doctor appeared in it for a
moment, agitated and impatient.
"Come up! Come up!"
At the moment of crossing the doorway the Capataz experienced a
shock of surprise. The man had not moved. He saw his shadow in
the same place. He started, then stepped in with a feeling of
being about to solve a mystery.
It was very simple. For an infinitesimal fraction of a second,
against the light of two flaring and guttering candles, through a
blue, pungent, thin haze which made his eyes smart, he saw the
man standing, as he had imagined him, with his back to the door,
casting an enormous and distorted shadow upon the wall. Swifter
than a flash of lightning followed the impression of his
constrained, toppling attitude--the shoulders projecting forward,
the head sunk low upon the breast. Then he distinguished the arms
behind his back, and wrenched so terribly that the two clenched
fists, lashed together, had been forced up higher than the
shoulder-blades. From there his eyes traced in one instantaneous
glance the hide rope going upwards from the tied wrists over a
heavy beam and down to a staple in the wall. He did not want to
look at the rigid legs, at the feet hanging down nervelessly,
with their bare toes some six inches above the floor, to know
that the man had been given the estrapade till he had swooned.
His first impulse was to dash forward and sever the rope at one
blow. He felt for his knife. He had no knife--not even a knife.
He stood quivering, and the doctor, perched on the edge of the
table, facing thoughtfully the cruel and lamentable sight, his
chin in his hand, uttered, without stirring--
"Tortured--and shot dead through the breast--getting cold."
This information calmed the Capataz. One of the candles
flickering in the socket went out. "Who did this?" he asked.
"Sotillo, I tell you. Who else? Tortured--of course. But why
shot?" The doctor looked fixedly at Nostromo, who shrugged his
shoulders slightly. "And mark, shot suddenly, on impulse. It is
evident. I wish I had his secret."
Nostromo had advanced, and stooped slightly to look. "I seem to
have seen that face somewhere," he muttered. "Who is he?"
The doctor turned his eyes upon him again. "I may yet come to
envying his fate. What do you think of that, Capataz, eh?"
But Nostromo did not even hear these words. Seizing the remaining
light, he thrust it under the drooping head. The doctor sat
oblivious, with a lost gaze. Then the heavy iron candlestick, as
if struck out of Nostromo's hand, clattered on the floor.
"Hullo!" exclaimed the doctor, looking up with a start. He could
hear the Capataz stagger against the table and gasp. In the
sudden extinction of the light within, the dead blackness sealing
the window-frames became alive with stars to his sight.
"Of course, of course," the doctor muttered to himself in
English. "Enough to make him jump out of his skin."
Nostromo's heart seemed to force itself into his throat. His
head swam. Hirsch! The man was Hirsch! He held on tight to the
edge of the table.
"But he was hiding in the lighter," he almost shouted His voice
fell. "In the lighter, and--and--"
"And Sotillo brought him in," said the doctor. "He is no more
startling to you than you were to me. What I want to know is how
he induced some compassionate soul to shoot him."
"So Sotillo knows--" began Nostromo, in a more equable voice.
"Everything!" interrupted the doctor.
The Capataz was heard striking the table with his fist.
"Everything? What are you saying, there? Everything? Know
everything? It is impossible! Everything?"
"Of course. What do you mean by impossible? I tell you I have
heard this Hirsch questioned last night, here, in this very room.
He knew your name, Decoud's name, and all about the loading of
the silver. . . . The lighter was cut in two. He was grovelling
in abject terror before Sotillo, but he remembered that much.
What do you want more? He knew least about himself. They found
him clinging to their anchor. He must have caught at it just as
the lighter went to the bottom."
"Went to the bottom?" repeated Nostromo, slowly. "Sotillo
believes that? Bueno!"
The doctor, a little impatiently, was unable to imagine what else
could anybody believe. Yes, Sotillo believed that the lighter was
sunk, and the Capataz de Cargadores, together with Martin Decoud
and perhaps one or two other political fugitives, had been